If you’ve ever seen one of those Actimel or Yakult ads, you’ll have heard about the importance of good bacteria for a happy human gut. The thing is, dogs and cats need good bacteria, too. More specifically, they need a healthy microbiome.
No idea what your pet’s microbiome is? No worries. In this piece, we break down the basics and explain why a robust microbiome is essential for your pet’s health and wellbeing.
Your pet’s microbiome defined
Just like us, our pets’ bodies are home to colonies of bacteria. While they predominantly dwell in the gut, you’ll find them pretty much everywhere – the skin, the eyes, the respiratory system, and so on. This incredible network of bacteria is known as the microbiome.
Within your pet’s microbiome, you’ll find a diverse mix of micro-organisms. Some are known as ‘good bacteria’: they co-exist with your pet quite happily and help fortify the immune system. Others are opportunistic and capable of causing various health issues.
Good microbiomes vs poor microbiomes
In a healthy digestive system, you’ll find a robust microbiome guarding the walls with a barrier of good bacteria.
Given that around 70% of the immune system resides in the gut, this barrier is critical to your pet’s health. It works to stop toxins, pathogens, and inappropriate food particles from entering the bloodstream – and when it’s in good nick, it does a great job.
When your pet’s microbiome is weak, this wall of bacteria becomes permeable, allowing unwanted invaders to enter the bloodstream. This forces the immune system to go on the attack. From here, problems can develop – for example, itchy skin, food intolerances, and digestive issues – with the potential for a long-term negative impact on health.
We all know that ‘butterflies’ feeling we get when we’re anxious. The gut and brain communicate with one another, so it’s no surprise that recent research has suggested that your pet’s microbiome can affect their mental health, too.
Now we know what the microbiome is, let’s explore what helps cultivate a harmonious one.
Back in the wilderness days…
To understand the makings of a good (or bad) microbiome, you need to look back on the diets pets subsisted on pre-domestication.
A healthy canine or feline digestive system starts cultivating itself from birth, as the foetus passes through the birth canal. From here, a wild dog or cat would have lived on a diet of fibre and meat covered in soil based microbes (no kibble in sight), which also would have added to a growing colony of diverse gut bacteria.
When cats and dogs are fed non-species-specific diets, their microbiomes suffer. Sadly, standard pet food is rarely as nature intended. Manufacturers opt for cheap carbs like maize to bulk out meals, along with artificial preservatives to extend shelf life. Pets end up consuming diets that don’t mirror those they evolved to thrive on in the wild.
A study in America compared the microbiomes of dogs suffering from chronic disease with those of healthy dogs. The healthy dogs’ microbiomes didn’t just contain a larger number of microbes in the digestive system: they included a much more diverse range of species, too.
Deprived of fresh whole foods, pets’ chances of developing a dynamic colony of bacteria are limited, leading to a weakened microbiome – we see the same effect with long-term antibiotic use.
Whole food diets for thriving microbiomes
Research has demonstrated that the quality and composition of a pet’s diet affects their microbiome’s condition, with links made between a raw food plan and a happy gut. Changing your cat or dog’s meals to those that are natural and species-appropriate can be a significant step towards rebuilding a robust protective barrier in the digestive system.
Hug’s whole food diets are designed to deliver optimal nutrition to your pet. They’re packed with high-quality protein, fibre, and prebiotics such as chicory root – ideal for a strong microbiome. You can also add soil-based probiotics to further cultivate and restore good bacteria.
Still have questions about your pet’s microbiome? We’re always here to help.